The 2009 national convention of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is set to begin in just a few days. Because of the similarity in names, this church body is sometimes confused with ours – the Evangelical Lutheran Synod. But the contrast between these two bodies is much more significant than a mere difference between the words “Church” and “Synod.”
For many decades now, the ELCA, and its predecessor bodies, have been thoroughly infected by a “historical-critical” approach toward Sacred Scripture. It is impossible to find a seminary professor in the ELCA who believes and teaches that the Scriptures are supernaturally inspired by God in such a way that they are completely true and accurate in everything they say. This loss of faith in Biblical authority has had predictable results. Women are ordained as pastors, contrary to 1 Timothy 2:11-12 (and other pertinent passages). Church fellowship has been established with liberal Reformed churches and other non-Lutheran bodies, contrary to Romans 16:17 (and other pertinent passages). At this year’s convention, the most controversial matter that will be debated is the ELCA’s policy regarding the moral standards for its clergy, specifically whether men and women who are living in homosexual relationships will be considered to be fit for a call to the pastoral ministry. The official policy of the ELCA currently forbids this, but to an increasing extent this policy is being ignored by ELCA bishops. A measure will be placed before the convention in a few days that, if adopted, would remove the hypocrisy, and put the ELCA officially on record as being in favor of allowing practicing homosexuals and lesbians to serve as pastors.
Regardless of how this vote goes, it is very likely that the discussions and actions of the ELCA convention will be widely reported by the news media. Friends who are not familiar with the “alphabet soup” of Lutheran synods in America, and who know that we are “Lutherans” of some kind, may think that these news reports pertain to the church body to which we belong. We should therefore be ready to respond, in a three-fold manner.
First, be prepared to explain that our church body, the ELS, is not the same as the ELCA, and also that our church body is not in fellowship with the ELCA, because of the serious differences in doctrine and practice that exist between us. On the issue of homosexuality, the public teaching of the ELS is as follows:
We confess that Scripture condemns homosexuality and extra-marital relations (fornication and adultery) as sin. Nevertheless, when an individual caught up in such sins truly repents, the forgiveness of the Gospel is to be fully applied. We confess that the divine institution of marriage is to be heterosexual, in which, according to God's design, a man and a woman may enjoy a life-long companionship in mutual love. We teach on the basis of Holy Scripture that marriage is the only proper context for the expression of sexual intimacy and for the procreation of children. See Rom. 1:26-27, 1 Cor. 6:9, 18 and 7:2-9, John 4:17-18, 1 John 1:9, Gen. 1:27-28 and 2:18-24, Matt. 19:4-6.
Second, if you are approached by ELCA friends who are fed up and offended by what their church body is now teaching in regard to these matters, and who are ready to depart from their church because of this, assure them that they would be able to find a spiritual home at Redeemer or Sun of Righteousness, where their traditional Lutheran beliefs and values are still honored. Invite them to get in touch with me if they want to find out more about our congregation and synod.
And third, also make sure that people know that individuals who may struggle with temptations toward same-sex attraction, but who know in their conscience that this kind of attraction is wrong and contrary to God’s will, are likewise welcome in our midst. As Christians who admit that we are all sinners, and who struggle with a wide array of inner weaknesses, we will welcome as our companions on the journey of repentance and faith those who may struggle also with this sort of problem. Jesus established his church as a community of healing and a beacon of hope for lost humanity. With the Lord’s help we will not take the easy way out, and get ourselves “off the hook” from our calling to be the body of Christ in a fallen and hostile world, by approving what God condemns, or by ignoring the inner trials of those who need our help in their difficult walk of faith. We will, in keeping with our official ELS statement, fully apply the Gospel to all those who repent of their sins – sins of thought, word, and deed – even as we rejoice to know that the Gospel of our Savior is continuously applied to us when we repent of our transgressions.
I was raised in a predecessor body of the ELCA. It gives me no pleasure at all to take note of the serious theological and moral problems that are inwardly destroying that church body. But in the midst of this sadness, we can all be thankful that God has preserved for us a congregation where his unchanging law is still acknowledged, and is preached to us in such a way as to call us to repentance when we violate God’s will. And we can also be profoundly thankful that God has preserved for us a congregation where his unchanging Gospel is still acknowledged, and is applied to us in sermon and Sacrament in such a way as to lift us up into the joy of eternal fellowship with our loving Savior Jesus Christ.